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International Widows’ Day 2023: Invisible Women, Invisible Problems

On June 23rd, International Widows’ Day is observed to shed light on the experiences and challenges faced by widows worldwide. Losing a partner can be devastating for any individual, but for women, this loss is often accompanied by a prolonged struggle for their basic rights and dignity. Despite the staggering number of widows globally, which exceeds 258 million, these women have historically been neglected, unsupported, and disregarded by society.

In this article, we will explore the plight of widows, emphasizing the urgent need to recognize their unique experiences and address their needs. From inheritance rights and property grab to stigmatization and discrimination, widows face a range of issues that demand immediate attention and action.

The Challenges Faced by Widows

Denial of Inheritance Rights

One of the most pressing issues affecting widows is the denial of their inheritance rights. In many societies, widows are excluded from inheriting their deceased spouse’s property, leaving them economically vulnerable and dependent on others. This denial further perpetuates gender inequality and restricts widows’ ability to support themselves and their families.

Property Grab and Dispossession

Following the death of their partners, widows often face the threat of property grab and dispossession. Relatives or others may exploit the vulnerable position of widows, taking away their rightful possessions and leaving them without any means of livelihood. This unjust practice adds to the already burdensome journey of widowhood.

Stigma and Discrimination

Widows frequently endure social stigma and discrimination due to cultural beliefs and stereotypes. They are unfairly perceived as “carriers” of disease or symbols of bad luck. This stigma marginalizes widows, hindering their reintegration into society and causing emotional distress.

Lack of Access to Pensions and Social Protection

In comparison to men, women are less likely to have access to old age pensions. The death of a spouse can thus result in destitution for older widows, who find themselves without financial support. Lockdowns and economic closures exacerbate this issue, as widows may face difficulties accessing bank accounts, pensions, and essential healthcare services.

Vulnerability Amid Lockdowns and Economic Closures

During times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, widows face heightened vulnerabilities. With limited access to resources and support systems, they struggle to meet their basic needs. The economic repercussions of lockdowns and closures can further exacerbate their precarious situations, leaving them unable to provide for themselves and their children.

Widows in Developing Countries: A Closer Look

Poverty and Widows

Widows in developing countries are particularly susceptible to poverty. In regions like eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, approximately 50% of women are widows, many of whom live in extreme poverty. Tackling poverty among widows is crucial for building inclusive and equitable societies.

Violence Against Widows

Widows often face violence and abuse, both within their own communities and from external sources. These acts of violence can range from physical assault to emotional torment, further compromising their safety and well-being. Addressing and preventing violence against widows is essential for creating a safer environment for all.

Health Concerns

The health of widows is another critical aspect that requires attention. They may experience a lack of access to healthcare services, which can result in untreated illnesses and further deterioration of their well-being. Prioritizing widows’ healthcare needs is vital to ensure their overall welfare.

Conflict-Related Situations

In areas affected by armed conflicts, widows bear the brunt of the consequences. They may become widowed due to the loss of their partners in conflict, leaving them in vulnerable positions with limited resources and support networks. Engaging widows in post-conflict peacebuilding and reconciliation processes is essential for sustainable peace and security.

The Significance of International Widows’ Day

Since 2011, the United Nations has observed June 23rd as International Widows’ Day. The purpose of this observance is to amplify the voices and experiences of widows and mobilize support tailored to their specific needs. This includes providing information about inheritance rights, land ownership, pensions, social protection, decent work opportunities, education, and training. Empowering widows and dismantling discriminatory practices are crucial steps toward achieving their rights and well-being.

Advancing Widows’ Rights: The Way Forward

To ensure the rights of widows are upheld, governments and societies must take proactive measures. The following actions are essential for progress:

Fair Distribution of Inheritance

Legislation should ensure widows receive a fair share of their deceased partner’s inheritance. By guaranteeing their rights, widows can gain financial stability and independence.

Access to Pensions and Social Protection

Governments must ensure widows have equal access to pensions and social protection, regardless of their marital status. This includes creating systems that cater to their unique needs and circumstances.

Decent Work and Equal Pay

Promoting employment opportunities for widows and ensuring they receive fair wages is crucial. Widows should be given the chance to support themselves and their families through dignified work.

Addressing Stigma and Harmful Practices

Societal attitudes toward widows must change. It is essential to challenge the stigmatization and harmful practices that widows face, fostering a more inclusive and supportive environment.

Upholding International Commitments

Governments should honor their commitments to protect widows’ rights as outlined in international conventions. Strengthening legal frameworks and ensuring their enforcement is paramount.

Strengthening Judicial Systems

Judicial systems need to be fortified to effectively defend widows’ rights. Judicial officials should be educated about widows’ rights and sensitized to their unique circumstances to deliver fair and just outcomes.

Ending Violence and Poverty

Comprehensive programs and policies should be developed to combat violence against widows and alleviate poverty. This requires a multi-faceted approach, including legal measures, awareness campaigns, and support systems.

Empowering Widows in Post-Conflict Situations

Widows must be actively involved in post-conflict peacebuilding and reconciliation processes. Their participation is crucial for ensuring lasting peace and security in affected regions.

Inclusive Recovery from COVID-19

In the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, recovery efforts should prioritize the needs of widows. By integrating their unique requirements into recovery plans, societies can build back better and create a more equitable future.

Did You Know?

  • There are an estimated 258 million widows globally, with nearly one in ten living in extreme poverty.
  • In some parts of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, approximately 50% of women are widows.
  • Widows are often coerced into participating in harmful traditional practices during burial and mourning rites.


International Widows’ Day serves as a reminder to acknowledge and address the challenges faced by widows worldwide. It is imperative that we empower widows, protect their rights, and eradicate the discrimination and stigmatization they endure. By working towards a more inclusive and equitable society, we can ensure that widows are no longer invisible and their problems are no longer ignored.


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